Hearing about the newer dedicated media devices for home theater got me interested in how they might work for the anime fan. I checked a couple of them out. Devices like the Western Digital WD TV Live HD and the Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ are small, inexpensive set-top boxes that can take just about any PC media file (from a connected USB stick or hard drive) and output them to your television. The top models from each maker also offer network connectivity so that you could even stream movies, music and images from other PCs on your home network. These sound like a dream for anime viewing, don't they?
They are. While each of them have their limitations, none are held back by file format support. Both play almost all the formats, like Divx, avi, MPEG, mkv, H264, mov, WMV and more, and fully support all your separate subtitle files (J-drama fans!) beautifully. Best of all, both of these boxes will even display videos up to 1080p! This means that just about anything you download will be playable. Both come with a remote control, so all you need to do is sit, select your file, and enjoy.
I took one of these, the FreeAgent Theater+ HD Media Player, and tried it out. The setup? There is none! One single HDMI cable connects the device to your TV. Plug in the power and you're done. No installation of programs and no switching on of other devices. It's that simple. To test it out I popped in some high-res MKV files that would never play on the PS3 or Xbox 360. Reading off a USB stick, it instantly loaded and played beautifully. My dreams had come true...except for the part where I had to continually dump files to a storage device to watch. If you're like me, you're always downloading something new, so moving files could be tiring after awhile.
This device does support network streaming from another computer on your network, but I didn't feel like that was much better than any of the free transcoding media applications out there, like PS3 Media Server, which work well if you have a fast network and don't mind some compromises in video and audio.
My solution was to add Seagate's NAS 110 1 TB BlackArmor network storage drive to the mix. By simply plugging this drive into my router I added a ton of anime-friendly functionality to my home. For one, the NAS 110 has media streaming support, which will stream the supported files to devices like the PS3 or Xbox 360. But better yet, when paired with the FreeAgent Theater+, I have support for anything and everything, all playing directly off a drive dedicated to that type of media. What's wonderful is that the NAS 110 also supports USB connectivity, which means that you can plug the drive directly into the FreeAgent Theater+, giving you the ability to play even the highest resolution files with no lag or issue. Of course, it all works beautifully over the network too, and you'll have the added benefit of having those files available to all other computers/systems in your home.
The networked drive becomes even more attractive when you consider that you can direct your Bittorrent and other downloads directly to it, and then have those files instantly stream-able from it. I've even set up FTP so that I can have remote access to these files while I'm away.
As cool as the drive is, the combination of it and the set-top media player is like a dream. It's so much better than any dedicated media machine I've ever owned, as it is faster, and doesn't mess with silly things like OS updates and viruses. Instant on, instant play, and with any format -- It just works!
And here's the best part: It was all so insanely cheap! I got the FreeAgent Theater+ on sale at Best Buy for $71! And the drive was also on sale for about $130. So, for about $200 I've scored the absolute best way to watch anime in my living room, on a big television and sound system. It's certainly cheaper and more capable than any cheap PC, and has much better file support than any streaming game system-based solution. Add to that the included Netflix and YouTube support -- it almost seems too good to be true!
If you've been wanting to watch anime (or j-drama/movies/television) away from your computer, you have to try this out.
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